CARLISLE — With unrest in Egypt, U.S. military officials looking for insight might test the ties they formed with the Egyptian defense minister, Lt. Gen. Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi, when he was a student at the Army War College.
“In this little historical Pennsylvania town, the most important school in the world operates under the radar,” said retired Col. Stephen Gerras, a professor of behavioral science at the Carlisle Barracks.
Al-Sisi was Gerras’ student. In 2006, he watched the Steelers beat the Seattle Seahawks, 21-10, in the Super Bowl in Gerras’ home. Gerras remembers him as a warm man, quiet and devout.
“My mother was at our little party, too, and al-Sisi took her around my home and explained to her the meaning behind the Turkish artifacts that my wife and I had picked up when we lived in Turkey,” he said. “At the time he was here, he was only a one-star general. We never dreamed at the time he would go on to lead the Egyptian army.”
Political unrest and a troubled economy marked the first year in office for Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi, until a military coup ousted him on Wednesday. Al-Sisi, who deployed troops to cities when clashes broke out between supporters and opponents of the government, said the chief justice of the constitutional court replaced Morsi, the first elected president.
Recruiting al-Sisi and military leaders from other U.S. allies to build professional and personal relationships at the Army War College is an investment in the future, said Maj. Gen. Tony Cucolo, commandant at the college. Its international fellows program began in the 1970s.
“It is so critical to know that the voice on the other end of the line is someone you trust because you have spent a year together studying, talking about everything from Thucydides (a Greek historian and Athenian general) to ethics to favorite sports teams,” said Cucolo. Social events help their families to form bonds.
That can pay off when a crisis erupts in a country.
“You now have a friend, or at the very least a colleague, you can call to receive situational updates outside of known information from the media,” Cucolo said. “They also have the ability to call you for advice and guidance.”
Armed guards at the entrance gate show visitors this is not a typical campus, though its mature hemlock and oak trees and 19th-century buildings give the feel of Ivy League grounds. A fly-fishing stream, LeTort Spring Run, a tributary of scenic Conodoguinet Creek, runs through the property.
The average student comes with 22 years of experience, which these days includes Operations Iraqi Freedom or Enduring Freedom. A board of military officials in Washington invites candidates to attend.
Many attendees come with battlefield experience that involves making black-and-white decisions.
“Our intent is take these soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines and intelligence officers to go from tactical-level operations and decision-makers to direct leadership roles,” said Bill Waddell, director of the command and control group and the cyberspace operations. “They have gotten promoted for being decisive and getting things done. Now they come here, and they have to get ready for roles where some of them will be general officers, admirals or on the staff of a senior leader.”
That means learning to think like those leaders and giving them a broader perspective, he said. At that level, there is no black-and-white; issues become complex.
“That officer who was being rewarded for being decisive and making things happen right finds decisiveness can be somewhat dangerous in the leadership environment,” Gerras said.
This is a college where professors do not lecture. Though military strategy is the mission, attendees swap their military regalia for shirts and ties.
They begin most days by discussing reading material from the prior day — typically topics such as the civil war in Syria, anti-government riots in Turkey and Egypt’s turmoil.
They are taught to think their way through problems, Waddell said, and to consider the perspectives of other stakeholders.
Steeped in history
The land that houses the Carlisle Barracks has been some sort of military facility since the founding of the country.
Dubbed Fort Washingtonburg to honor a young George Washington, a post built here in the 1750s protected settlers during the French and Indian War.
During the Revolutionary War, captured Hessians from the Battle of Trenton became prisoners here. The guardhouse they built still stands.
And it was here that President Washington gathered his troops with Treasury Secretary Alexander Hamilton to put down the Whiskey Rebellion, marking the only time a sitting president has led a battle.
The Army War College was founded by President Theodore Roosevelt’s War Department secretary, Elihu Root, in 1901 in Washington. It moved to Carlisle in 1951.
Root wanted to school elite military leaders not to promote war, but to preserve peace through intelligent preparation to repel aggression.
Since 9/11, military leaders have been asked what element of surprise keeps them up at night.
“We just don’t predict very well,” Gerras said about enemy unknowns that nag at him. He worries, too, about diminished resources for the Armed Forces. “Because we don’t predict this stuff very well, are we going to have the resilience and agility and the resources to respond to what might happen?”
The steep drawdown of resources that inevitably follows the end of a conflict worries Waddell, too.
“If the budget cuts are catastrophic,” he said, “we just need to know we have some flexibility and agility with our forces.”
Full article: Egypt’s army chief trained at Army War College (The Sentinal)